Football: Keegan back as Fayed's Fulham aim for the top

Kevin Keegan, Newcastle United's erstwhile manager, will return to football today by becoming the chief executive of Second Division Fulham. Guy Hodgson reveals how the persuasive powers of the club's millionaire owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, and the promise
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In the press conference at his opening match as Newcastle United's manager, Kevin Keegan prefaced his comments with: "This is the first letter of the first word of the title of the book." A new chapter will begin today when he becomes chief executive of Fulham.

Yesterday the Second Division club on the bank of the Thames were being coy about the appointment, but the lack of a denial was pertinent. "We don't comment on press speculation," Ian Gibb, a spokesman, said. "When the time is right to make any announcement on the future of Fulham Football Club we will do so." That time will come with a formal declaration today.

The 46-year-old Keegan, who quit Newcastle in January and who gave the impression of leaving football for good, has succumbed to the persuasion of Fulham's multi-millionaire owner Mohamed Al Fayed who is understood to be willing to bankroll a substantial spending spree in an attempt to realise his dream of making Fulham "the Manchester United of the south".

There is a long way to go - Fulham are 11th in the Second Division - and the price will include the appointment of Ray Wilkins, Keegan's former England team-mate. He will be installed as the new manager over the head of Micky Adams, who, on a shoestring, steered the club to promotion last term.

Adams' future at the club looked bleak last night after he failed to arrive with his team for the Coca-Cola Cup tie at Wolves, which Fulham lost 1-0, going out 2-0 on aggregate.

Keegan became known as "the messiah" by Newcastle supporters after he had taken the club from one brink (going into the then Third Division) to another (the Premiership title). His departure eight months ago shocked football generally, but Tyneside was reduced to a state of near mourning. "It was my decision and my decision alone to resign," he said. "I feel I have taken the club as far as I can."

It was felt that the financial binds imposed on him by Newcastle's impending stock market flotation prompted his departure and it is ironic that he will return at the behest of the Harrods owner better known in City circles than football until he bought Fulham for pounds 30m four months ago.

Keegan had repeatedly insisted he had no interest in returning to football, but last Friday he admitted for the first time that he might come back in the right circumstances.

The challenge at Craven Cottage, at a club who have never won a major honour and who were last in England's top division 28 years ago, looks to have proved irresistible given the millions he will have to spend.

The chance to take the less up-front role of chief executive will also have appealed. Bright, witty and accessible to the press at the start of his time at Newcastle he had become tetchy to the point of becoming almost monosyllabic towards the end of his time on Tyneside.

Wilkins, a former England captain and now coach at Crystal Palace, will almost certainly be itching to get another chance in management after a difficult time a few miles away at Queen's Park Rangers.

He refused to discuss developments at Fulham, but his manager Steve Coppell said: "He [Wilkins] has spoken to me and I'm aware of the situation but it's up to him if he wants to talk about it."